Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 112 / Number 3 - Review
Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings •
Edward L. Bond, ed. • Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004 • xviii, 569 pp. • $199.00
Reviewed by Jeffrey H. Richards, professor of English and coordinator of American Studies
at Old Dominion University. He is the author of "Samuel Davies and the Transatlantic Campaign for Slave Literacy
in Virginia," co-winner of the William M. E. Rachal Award for the best article in the VMHB for 2003.
The editor of this volume of primary documents has two major purposes for his collection. One is to gather in
convenient book form sermons and related materials that heretofore have not been published or are otherwise hard
to find in American libraries. The other is to counter what Edward L. Bond identifies as the "orthodox" history of
religion in Virginia, that of a repressive and corrupt Anglican hierarchy quashing a few valiant dissenters. Bond's
success with each purpose and his excellent notes make this volume a significant addition to the literature on
colonial Virginia and American religious history.
Bond begins with a survey history of Christian religion in Virginia from Jamestown to the Revolution, one of the
best compact treatments available of the colony's religious diversity and conflicts. Three chapters gather documents
under topical headings. Chapter two focuses on "Family Religion and Private Piety"; chapters seven and nine
examine the topics of slavery and moral issues, respectively. The remaining chapters present the work of single
individuals: the Anglican ministers Robert Paxton, James Blair, and James Maury; the Presbyterian Samuel Davies;
and the Baptist John Leland. As befitting a polity where the Church of England was the established church, the
book is dominated by Anglican parsons and writers. Although the editor identifies the full range of religious
denominations in Virginia in his introduction, dissenters are represented only by four Davies sermons and
a few selections from Leland's The Virginia Chronicle. By contrast, Maury alone is represented by ten
sermons and several letters.
Bond justifies the choices variously, but most importantly by previous unavailability. In the case of Maury, the
volume prints every extant sermon from manuscript sources, providing scholars with easy access to material
otherwise not represented in earlier published work. Maury comes across as a pleasant, direct writer of
sermons, one who, as Bond carefully notes, often based his sermons on those delivered by such Anglican
luminaries as John Tillotson. As with most of his Anglican colleagues, Maury feared "Enthusiasm," but most
of his remarks followed standard topics on attitudes and behavior. Maury is somewhat more readable now
than Commissary James Blair, who dominated Virginia religion in the first four decades of the eighteenth
century. Many of Blair's sermons were printed in London in 1722 but have not been reprinted since. In
short, through reprinting such a large number of Church of England texts, Bond brings attention to neglected
material and helps to humanize the Anglican experience, moving readers away from the stereotype of the
rum-swilling Virginia planter and toward the vision of a society that wanted more religion than was available.
Of course, no anthology of this type can satisfy every reader. In the chapter on slavery, Bond rightly reprints
Samuel Davies's 1757 attack on planters for their refusal to christianize their slaves, but he omits anything from
Morgan Godwyn's anti-slavery The Negro's and Indian's Advocate, even though he refers to that work
elsewhere. Two Blair sermons could easily be exchanged for a substantial segment of Godwyn's work.
Also, in righting what he sees as historians' anti-Anglican bias, the volume does leave dissenters rather
short-changed. No works from Quakers, Moravians, Lutherans, or Methodists are included. The editor
explains the small number of Davies sermons by their previous gatherings in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, but I would have liked to see one or two more in this collection. Even so, Edward Bond has
provided a real service to scholars and libraries that support collections in Virginia history by making
available these texts and enriching our view of colonial religious practice.